RALEIGH — Jared Staal and Riley Nash have been sitting side-by-side this week in the RecZone locker room during the Carolina Hurricanes' prospect conditioning camp, and the two could pass for brothers.
Both forwards have reddish hair and fair complexions. Both are Canadians with easygoing demeanors.
Nash, 21, occasionally is asked if he's related to Columbus Blue Jackets star Rick Nash. The center, who has played college hockey the last three years at Cornell, will politely say sorry, but no.
As for Staal, there are no questions about his family tree and lineage. He's the youngest brother of Hurricanes captain Eric Staal. He's the younger brother of Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Marc Staal of the New York Rangers.
He's also the only Staal brother not in the National Hockey League. Jared Staal is asked about that a lot as he approaches his 20th birthday next month.
"That's fine," Jared said. "I'll never complain about having three brothers in the NHL. That's an advantage for me."
Eric, Jordan and Marc Staal encountered no stop signs and hardly a bump in the road in their transition from junior hockey to the NHL. Eric and Jordan already have won Stanley Cups.
"They made the jump pretty quickly, and they were ready for it," Jared Staal said. "I want to make the jump as quickly as possible. That's my goal."
But Jared is finding it to be a tougher go.
A second-round pick by the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft - the 49th overall selection - he has played the last four seasons for the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League while getting in just 10 games in the American Hockey League on amateur tryouts.
He likely will start next season with the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes' new AHL affiliate, after being traded to Carolina in May for a fifth-round pick in the 2010 draft.
Staal said his brothers have offered the same advice for advancement: work hard every day, soak everything in and have some fun doing it.
"They said to be a pro about everything you do," he said. "It's the way you act, the way you carry yourself off the ice and on the ice. It's a huge thing and goes a long way."
It's not easy when you see your brothers competing in the NHL, when the Cup shows up a few times at the family home in Thunder Bay, Ontario. It's hard not to get in a hurry, to stress too much about it.
He is, after all, a Staal.
"He has been in the limelight a lot because of his family, and there's no question there's pressure in being the fourth brother," said Mike Foligno, Staal's coach in the OHL and now an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks. "I think he has handled the situation well and grown up a lot. He has grown and matured as a player.
"He's intelligent, understands the game well and positionally is very good. He has the stature and smarts to one day play on the NHL level. He does need to improve his overall quickness, find that extra step, and he needs more man muscle."
Man muscle? Staal again grinned.
"Whacking at every play, holding your position, never giving up on a play," he said.
Last season with the Wolves, Staal closed with 12 goals and 37 assists in 59 games. He also played five games for the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL, earning one assist.
Staal signed a three-year, entry-level deal with the Hurricanes soon after the May trade. As part of the contract, he received a $150,000 signing bonus.
Jared Staal doesn't have Eric's hands or quickness, and at 210 pounds is about 10 pounds lighter than Jordan, the big guy in the family. He resembles Marc, the only defenseman among the brothers.
"Being the youngest of that group, there are a lot of expectations," Canes associate head coach Ron Francis said. "In my conversations with him, I'm not concerned about his brothers, just him. It's about him putting in the time and effort and getting himself in the best possible condition he can get into and believing in himself and going out there and relaxing and having fun doing it. We think he'll do fine."
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